Thursday, July 11, 2013

P&P Challenge/Book Club: Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James is set six years after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy. It is the night before the annual Lady Anne's Ball at Pemberley, and Elizabeth has spent the day preparing for the ball with the servants. She and Darcy are wrapping up the evening with some of the guests staying with them when a carriage flies up the lane, releasing a hysteric Lydia. When she is inside and sane enough to accuse Elizabeth of mistreatment (for not actually being invited to the ball), she recounts her story: On her way in the stormy night to "crash the Pemberley party" so-to-speak, Wickham and Captain Denny leave her in the carriage and stalk into the forest, where the sounds of gunshots emerge after a few minutes. Convinced that Denny has killed Wickham, Lydia rushes on to Pemberley and insists that a search party be sent out immediately.

First Impression: I've never read anything by P. D. James before, so I'm not sure if the book reflects how she usually writes or just the time period which she is referencing. Either way, I'm enjoying it. There is all of the formality without the stiffness of someone who shouldn't be writing about the 19th century. James definitely knows what she's doing. The book is set six years or so after Jane and Elizabeth married Bingley and Darcy, which leaves a good amount of time for all of the characters to be comfortable in their settled lives without the unnecessary romantic scenes that might interfere with the mystery that's coming. While it's good that James refers to what takes place in Pride and Prejudice, I don't think she needs to do the scene repeats that she does in the first chapter. Maybe it's for the benefit of those who haven't read the book--that would make sense--or maybe it's just to set the stage. I hope it doesn't continue as the book goes on. Side note: I expect that Kitty and Georgiana will have plans for marriage by the end of the book. So far I'm enjoying the novel.

Conclusion: I don't like how James changes the characters. It seems like she keeps half of their original characters in tact and the other halves she changes to help her story along. Also, it doesn't seem right that Elizabeth and Darcy question their domestic bliss so much after six years of marriage. I could understand Elizabeth sometimes questioning if she did the right thing for Darcy. However, I could never see her re-addressing her actions toward Wickham after she knew his true character, and I would never EVER think of her wondering if money factored into her choice of a husband. It was made evident through her first refusal of Darcy and her general attitude toward riches in Pride and Prejudice that she wasn't motivated by money when considering her future. In fact, that was a common personality trait in all of Austen's heroines.

This book was very well-written. I like P.D. James's writing style for this genre--formal but not too stiff. I also like her interpretation of Darcy. He takes care of his family and friends while maintaining his responsibilities and sensitivities as master, husband, and father. Colonel Fitzwilliam was a big disappointment for me. In Austen's novel, the Colonel is warm, friendly, and lovable. In Death Comes to Pemberley, he is solitary and serious. There are reasons given for this transformation, but I find them inadequate for the extreme differences in the core of his personality. Also, I am surprised not to find a lot of mystery in this mystery. There are many secrets kept throughout the book (and then unloaded on the reader all at once toward the end of the novel), which gives the appearance of mystery, but there really isn't a lot of study given to who committed the murder and how. The epilogue adds nothing to the book, in my opinion. It seems to provide a chance for James to express her thoughts on P&P without wrapping-up anything from this novel (with the exception of Georgiana's romantic interests). At the end, I feel calm, as though I've been doing yoga rather than waiting breathlessly to hear the conclusion to a murder mystery, but it's a pleasant peace. I'm curious how someone who hasn't read Pride and Prejudice might react to Death Comes to Pemberley. Have any of you read it?


  1. I read it a little over a year ago (my review here), and I didn't care for it. I've read other of P.D. James' books, and they were far better than this. In the end, it came off as a kind of fan-fiction, and not the best kind. Sad, as I had high hopes for it, and the prologue was so promising.

    1. I read your review, and I know what you mean. I don't think I disliked it quite as much as you, but I was really disappointed. The changes in certain characters and the general lack of mystery made it not really a hit in my book.